By on January 8, 2013

Leaded gasoline was invented by General Motors in the 1920s. Tetraethyl lead was a cheap octane booster and antiknock agent. It prevented exhaust valve and valve seat wear and allowed much higher engine compression. It also could have been the cause of  the big post-war crime wave, researchers say.

Several researchers, cited in an article in Mother Jones, tied the rise of crime in the ‘60s and ‘70s to rising levels of lead in the atmosphere and in people. They also tied the drop in crime since the ‘90s to diminished lead exposure after leaded gasoline was phased out.

Lead exposure in small children has been linked to lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and now – crime. Crime manifests itself decades after exposure: Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s were seen more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Interestingly, leaded gasoline could still cause mayhem if there would not have been another big city problem: Smog. Car emissions were battled with catalytic converters, but leaded gasoline was murder on the catalytic converters, which led to a phase-out of lead in gasoline.

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81 Comments on “Researchers: Leaded Gas Responsible For Crime Wave...”


  • avatar
    daviel

    my two ex-wives never understood that lead thing. and leaded gas caused the fall of the Roman empire…or was that leaded glass?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Lead pipes, as in plumbing.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      While there was some very small lead from the plumbing, lead pipe self coats readily when exposed to water.

      Later research has indicated that the majority of the lead uptake was from, wait for it, deliberate usage of lead acetate as a sweetener. The recipes and procedures have been found in cookbooks among other things. Also used as a preservative for mil rations and all sorts stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        That’s my understanding as well, but I thought it was not that lead pipe self-coats, but rather that lead pipe would get coated with calcium carbonate due to the high calcium content in Roman soil.

        The lead in Roman diets, as porschespeed said, came from boiling down grape juice into a sweetener for many hours in lead pots and then later by creating a sweetener using lead oxide and acetic acid to make lead acetate.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        corntrollio, very true about the calcium carbonate. I should have been more specific that it really varies by pH and some other mineralization factors I don’t recall. And it’s not so much the lead oxidizing like steel/copper/aluminum, but “self-coating” seemed like a quick way to describe the process at the time.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    This was featured on Science Channel’s “Dark Matters” show last year. IIRC turns out the man who invented lead additives also invented CFC’s:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRqSWs9RQrY

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Interestingly, it was GM who made the commitment to “Get the lead out”. In early 1970 they announced that all GM cars produced in the 1971 model year would run on low lead or no lead gasoline. They did this by dropping the compression ratio on all engines (which significantly lowered horsepower on former high-performance engines) and hardening valves and valve seats.

    I don’t know if this was an altruistic bend GM was on or whether they knew the catalytic converter was an eventuality (they first experimented with them in 1969) and they decided to get a jump on the inevitable end-game.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Given the ever-tightening emissions standards of the 1970s and 1980s, GM probably saw the writing on the wall and realized that the catalytic converter was the most cost-effective way to meet the standards.

      Interestingly, in the late 1970s, Honda, which has pushed the enviromental angle heavily, advertised that its cars could run on leaded or unleaded gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Shell worked in conjunction with GM and came out with Shell of the Future which was the first unleaded gas. I barely recalled this but I entered this as a Piston Slap question:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/08/piston-slap-shell-games/

      Lead was bad news no matter how you slice it. And unlike other substances that caused issues after being banned, we are missing nothing by eliminating lead.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Lead in auto exhaust quickly precipitates and falls to the ground. It is not a human health hazard in the context of breathing outside air. I suppose, unless you want to spend a lot of time snorting road dust. Most human lead ingestion arises from exposure in the home or workplace, not outdoors.

        No doubt, dumping lead by the millions of tons into the enviroment can’t be good.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        TEL was the cheapest solution out of the Kettering lab experiments. They originally used Beryl I believe. Bssically they needed something cheap to mix in and ironically post-war engines could have been designed away from TEL but GM and the others were entrenched with the corporations that produced it so it was a circular logic issue that was only broken by government regulation.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        TEL enabled dramatic increases in compression ratio, a direct factor in thermodynamic efficiency, and thus power and fuel efficiency. No other substance offered the octane boosting performance of TEL. It also served to lubricate the intake valve to seat interface. Elimination of TEL caused a dramatic reduction in engine output, along with the drop in compression ratio, which was not recovered for decades with engine control technology advancement and alternative octane boosting agents. Valve seat recession also became an issue for engines not designed to use unleaded fuel- every engine on the market prior to 1971 or so. At Oldsmobile, with industry exclusive positive valve rotators which aggravate valve recession in the absense of lead as a lubricant, we machined a pocket and installed a hardened steel valve seat in cylinder heads to deal with the issue. Fortunately, an inductive hardening technique allowed the iron head material to be hardened, allowing elimination of the high cost valve seat inserts after just one model year (1971).

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        doctor olds,

        How are you enjoying the 1950s? Lead auto exhaust doesn’t “precipitate quickly and fall to the ground”. Are you getting your science from Limbaugh?

        TEL was a cheap shortcut. Nothing more. Far higher spec outputs are garnered today, and adding TEL would do sweet FA to raise them.

        Stay in your cave.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @porschespeed- Neither Mother Jones, nor TTAC should be relied on for technical knowledge. Actually, I do have the science right. Where did you get your technical education? Even the Mother Jones article presents data that discloses big variation in lead contamination within one city! This refutes the notion that it somehow cames from auto exhaust, which would be more uniformly distributed. Environmental alarmism in the anti-corporate blogoshere is misleading you and many others. Human lead contamination is not tied to auto emissions.

        I am not lobbying for a return to leaded fuel, though it does enable much higher octane fuels relatively cheaply. Leaded fuels available at the pump provided 100 octane gasoline. You will pay $8 plus per gallon for racing fuel to match that rating today, and still have nasty substances that destroy catalytic converters and are harmful to humans in the mix!

  • avatar
    Dan

    Lead did it, guns did it, income inequality did it, lack of midnight basketball did it. Anything to avoid blaming the fatherless culture that actually did do it.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      There hasn`t been a surge in marriage and two parent child rearing in the past two decades. So how do you explain the crime drop – it is due to many variables.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I tend to agree there are many factors. In reference to Dan’s comment in the overall US crime may have dropped, but what are the figures for individual types of crime since 1970 (murder/manslaughter/rape/armed robbery) and in which areas (urban/suburban/rural)?

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Actually teen pregnancy rates have fallen along with the crime rate. Too bad. Now you have noone left to moralize on.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Freakonomics poses the theory that the drop in crime was due to legalizing abortion, thus removing entire swaths of people who would otherwise be high-risk for committing crime (children whose parents don’t want them).

      It’s an interesting moral dilemma.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      ah- the tin hat brigade just came out in their clown car. What took you so long?

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      Why is it that those who moralize usually have a shitload of skeletons in their own closets?

      Just saying.

  • avatar
    elmwood

    I seems to make sense, but without reading the report, my first reaction is “correlation does not equal causation.” Freakonomics attributes the decline in crime in part to legal abortion.

    I wonder if there’s a similar correlation in other countries where leaded gas was phased out later than in the US. What about countries with similar demographics and culture, like Canada and Australia?

    • 0 avatar

      Sometimes, it helps to read the report before replying.

      RB4R, B&B!

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      They actually do discuss that in the article and the study did account for that. They compared trends on crime and lead within cities, within states, within the country, and among different countries. In short, it proved out very well. They also discussed the Freakanomics issue you cited. It is a long article, but definitely worth the read. I’m a data nerd, so this stuff is very interesting to me.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Read the linked article, and it was impressively researched. That said, “elmwood’s” point is a valid one. If the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline was the principal cause of a crime wave, then one would expect to see this phenomenon replicated in the cities of other “Westerninzed” countries — Canada, western Europe and Japan, in particular.

      Indeed, one of the differentiating factors between the postwar U.S. and postwar Europe and Japan was the suburbanization of most U.S. cities, made possible by widespread car ownership and good roads, which would have tended to reduce the concentration of lead in urban air by dissipating the sources.

      While the popular mind associates automobiles with the United States, the fact is that, in western European cities, there were plenty of gasoline-powered vehicles as well, even though the mix was different, with a greater proportion of gasoline-powered two and three-wheeled vehicles. When I lived in Spain the in late 1950s (which had a living standard considerably below the UK, France, Germany) “rush hour” in front of our apartment building, which was one of the main entrances to the medium-sized Spanish city where we lived, had plenty of heavy traffic, although much of it was two-wheeled, powered by 2-cycle gasoline engines. For middle-class Spaniards in that time, the “family car” was a Vespa scooter, on which they managed to transport a family of four, if the children were not too old.

      So, before I buy this argument and certainly before going along with an expensive, mass lead remediation project, I would want to see it confirmed by similar data from cities outside the U.S.

      The article completely omits to discuss anything like that.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        DC Bruce…

        Excellent point. I was in Warsaw, Poland, in 1995, and the haze and fumes from leaded gasoline and non-catalytic converter cars were dreadful. Yet, I don’t remember anyone making an issue of anomalously high crime rates, above those in Western Europe (e.g., Germany).

        Yes, lead is an unhappy thing to pepper all over the environment, and may be just one of several factors. No doubt societal influences are strong contributors too. We must also remember that the 1960′s were the beginning of the “hippie” generation, the rebellion generation, the “pot/drug” generation, and the Viet Nam war generation, — all of which eroded some civil and cultural disciplines and restraints. Those factors reached their apex in the 1970′s.

        But thanks, Bertel, for your very thoughtful article.

        —————-

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        NMGOM – were those odors from leaded gasoline or diesel? I know I’m in Europe as soon as I hit the tarmac because the combusted diesel smell is potent.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “Yes, lead is an unhappy thing to pepper all over the environment, and may be just one of several factors. …”

        For every complex, hard to understand problem, there is a simple, easy to understand wrong answer.

      • 0 avatar
        ckb

        In the spirit of this thread about reading the article before replying I have a quote for DC Bruce from the article:

        “Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he’d found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn’t just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

        Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory. “No,” he replied. “Not one.”\"

        Summary for those that would still rather not click the link: Studies have linked lead contamination to crime rate across the the western world at National, regional, and local levels of varying population density.

  • avatar
    kitzler

    I had heard that when they took lead out of gas, they replaced it with Manganese, that is how Amoco used to sell its lead free gas and avoid w blowing high compression engines.

    If Manganese is still used, the next we are going to learn, is that manganese makes you fat?

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      Exposure to high levels of Manganese dioxide will result in a disease similar to Parkinsons. If the Mn that Amoco used was in the form of a organo metallic like tetra ethyl lead, it would oxidize to MnO2 during combusion in the engine. Food for thought.

      • 0 avatar
        kitzler

        Danke Felix, actually any exhaust product including CO is a poison, and poisons make you do strange things, especially if you O’d on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The principal components of exhaust are CO2 and water. Both mostly harmless to an individual, unless you drown in it.

        The poisons are byproducts of incomplete combustion and junk in the fuel. Or, at least that’s what my chemistry 1001 class notes suggest.

        For the record, I’m concerned by the environmental and climate effects of all this. But modern cars are much better than they used to be, and the bulk of the mass coming put of a tailpipe isn’t particularly poisonous. There are some poisons in exhaust (and much less than there was when I was a kid), but it’s a condiment and not the meal.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Cars are most certainly far cleaner than they used to be. Spend a day in a boatyard for a trip down a stinky memory lane.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Interesting article Bertel, good post.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    Thank you for posting this. Really interesting study. I can’t wait for the trial lawyers to get ahold of this. TV advert: “If you were born in the 1940s or 50s and committed a violet crime or were a victim of violent crime by someone born in that era, call Melvin Schmerdlap and Associates at 1-800-777-9999 NOW! You may be entitled to compensation from the class action lawsuit of General Motors infamous lead poising of baby boomers.”

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    The scourge of lead is still with us. Most of the top soil in the urban areas still have lead in it. Luckily the lead is generally not absorbed into plants and vegetables. If you were growing rooters in your backyard though, you should get your soil tested first.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    That article is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for posting it.

    So many of Murilee’s junkyard finds can now be labelled as crime-causers!

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Fine Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, between leaded gas and Twinkies my client didn’t stand a chance. He is the true victim here.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Did you file a motion to have your defendant examined by a psychiatrist and legally declared incompetent to stand for trial?

      We as a society have this process figured out. This is not a new problem. Could it be improved? Yes. Are mental health services for the down-and-out (and a small number of people who are truly bat$#!t crazy) underfunded? Sure. But mental illness isn’t a new problem, and we worked out some basically workable ways to deal with it in the justice system long ago. I do think the mental health care system in this country is due for an update, but the issue you alluded to in your post was hashed out a decade or two before I was born.

    • 0 avatar
      sbunny8

      The so-called “Twinkie defense” is an urban legend. It never happened. http://www.snopes.com/legal/twinkie.asp

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    This was an article in Mother Jones, the same ‘people’ that wrote a report on how concealed carry laws don’t stop random shootings by excluding all the instances when armed bystanders held the death toll to four or less. It is depressing seeing how uncritically some folks absorb propaganda.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      a) those situations are quite rare
      b) it is often the case that the gun-toting bystander gets seriously injured or killed, thereby having an unsuccessful intervention

      Also, you are mixing up two different things. The bystander thing and the fact that the FBI considers a mass shooting to be 4 or more. Mother Jones did not exclude shootings of fewer people arbitrarily — they did it because that’s the definition. If you have better data, please provide it, but I doubt you do, and you’re mostly making stuff up:

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/12/can_armed_citizens_stop_mass_shootings_examples_of_armed_interventions.html

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Could it be that the FBI and Mother Jones share the agenda of disarming the public? Excluding instances where the death toll was held below four to determine the (in)efficacy of concealed carry laws as a deterrent is a masturbatory effort to exclude cases where armed bystanders prevented deaths.

        You believe that instances of armed bystanders intervening are “rare” but “often” they result in said armed bystanders being injured. Try to draw your own conclusion.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Those things are not mutually exclusive (unless you don’t understand logic). In the *rare* case that a bystander is armed, they often (in those rare scenarios) get hurt themselves. For example, if bystanders are there 2% of the time, there can still be a 95% chance the bystander him/herself gets hurt in that scenario. Is that really that hard to understand?

        And I don’t “believe” anything other than facts that are demonstrated and properly analyzed, not propagandist arguments when people misunderstand statistics and facts.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I’m mocking you because you’re making these prejudicial statements when the only studies we have excluded documenting interventions by armed bystanders. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support my rejection of MJ/FBI methodology:

        – Mayan Palace Theater, San Antonio, Texas, this week: Jesus Manuel Garcia shoots at a movie theater, a police car and bystanders from the nearby China Garden restaurant; as he enters the movie theater, guns blazing, an armed off-duty cop shoots Garcia four times, stopping the attack. Total dead: Zero.

        – Winnemucca, Nev., 2008: Ernesto Villagomez opens fire in a crowded restaurant; concealed carry permit-holder shoots him dead. Total dead: Two. (I’m excluding the shooters’ deaths in these examples.)

        – Appalachian School of Law, 2002: Crazed immigrant shoots the dean and a professor, then begins shooting students; as he goes for more ammunition, two armed students point their guns at him, allowing a third to tackle him. Total dead: Three.

        – Santee, Calif., 2001: Student begins shooting his classmates — as well as the “trained campus supervisor”; an off-duty cop who happened to be bringing his daughter to school that day points his gun at the shooter, holding him until more police arrive. Total dead: Two.

        – Pearl High School, Mississippi, 1997: After shooting several people at his high school, student heads for the junior high school; assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieves a .45 pistol from his car and points it at the gunman’s head, ending the murder spree. Total dead: Two.

        – Edinboro, Pa., 1998: A student shoots up a junior high school dance being held at a restaurant; restaurant owner pulls out his shotgun and stops the gunman. Total dead: One.

        Also glazed over in the propaganda bulletins is that an armed bystander held the Portland mall shooter at gun point while he killed himself, halting the death toll at two innocent victims.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        The Slate article I sent addressed some of those. Did you read it? You again aren’t addressing facts in many cases and are being propagandist yourself.

        For example:
        Myrick hit the guy’s car with his own car when he was leaving the high school and then knocked him down before pointing a gun at him. It wasn’t the gun that saved the day.

        For Appalachian School of Law, it wasn’t the gun that brought the guy down, but rather the intervenors’ police training, and the fact that they struck the guy in the head while he was re-loading, and then tackled him.

        Several of the intervenors are trained people and often off-duty cops, as opposed to random yahoos that the NRA champions.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The Slate article itself said that the final proof is “inconclusive,” so Mother Jones is jumping to conclusions, as well.

    • 0 avatar
      GusTurbo

      Nice logical fallacy. Here’s one of my own: you are dumb as hell and didn’t read the article, therefore your opinion is invalid.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      If the deathtoll was >1, was the random shooting truly “stopped”? People still died. Did the gunman intend on shooting more? Seems like an impossible thing to determine other than someone admitting that their intent was to take out as many people as possible but they were unable to acheive their goal based on an armed bystander.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        You can’t stop something until it has started, unless we expect people to be psychic and predict when mass shootings will happen.

        In which case, municipal police departments or the FBI should employ such people on a full-time basis and use their psychic powers to predict who will commit these shootings and where, and arrest the would-be perpetrators before such events happen.

        When someone starts firing randomly at a crowded public venue, I think most people can logically guess that he or she wants to take out as many people as possible. Most people who want to murder a specific person either do it where they won’t be seen (and, thus, reduce their chances of getting caught), or kill that one person and then turn the gun on themselves.

        At any rate, getting back to the topic at hand, I’m glad that we’ve eliminated lead from gasoline, regardless of whether the link between the use of leaded gasoline and increased crime is true. It has led to a huge improvement in the air that we breath.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The mass shootings that I’ve bothered to follow (including one that happened in a town I used to call home) have a few characteristics that might be useful to include in the discussion:
        1) the shooter spent months preparing
        2) they sometimes left a trail for the people to find in the aftermath.
        3) a history of untreated mental illness

        It seems that these would be useful in characterizing unsuccessful attempts.

        This kind of atrocity really knocks a community on its head, and contributed yo my a) moving to another community and b) becoming far more liberal and less libertarian in my carefully considered opinions. These things were already happening, but what happened to/in my community sure finished the job.

        Anyway, there are a lot of characteristics beyond a simple body count that you can use to examine this problem.

        As for me, I’m going to continue to vote for tax increases to fund government services for the needy, and argue for the improvement of mental health services at every opportunity.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I do agree the mental health system needs help of its own, but funding alone is never the answer, you need to couple that with serious accountability.

        Not passing out mind numbing drugs like candy to the populace based on dubious diagnoses is another suggestion. How many times have prescription drugs been linked to psychotic episodes?

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        More funding for mental health services is wasted money unless you change the laws regarding involuntary commitment or treatment.

        Treatment doesn’t do any good if the person doesn’t have to take it. Many mentally ill people believe that they are perfectly fine, and refuse to take any drugs or submit to any treatment. (Or, they take the drugs or undergo some treatment, feel better, and decided that they don’t need to do anything else.)

        They cannot be committed involuntarily unless they are a threat to themselves or others. With one possible exception, these shooters, to the best of my knowledge, had not made specific threats to anyone, or threatened to commit suicide, prior to the final shooting. The exception may have been Jared Loughner, but I don’t believe his behavior rose to the level of a death threat against Representative Giffords.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        “You can’t stop something until it has started”

        This is precisely the problem with the NRA types’ argument that guns in the hands of the good guys, can beat guns in the hands of the bad guys. In reality, the bad guy always gets to fire the first shot. So by the time the good guy manages to pull out his own guns- it’s already too late.

        Whereas if the bad guy had no gun to begin with (Japan for example)- nobody even fires the first shot.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        As we all know, when alcohol consumption was banned during Prohibition, nobody touched a drop, and drug prohibition has resulted in no illegal drug use whatsoever.

        I’m sure that banning all guns would have the same effect, and that someone who wants to commit mass murder would not ever think of violating a law banning gun ownership to do so.

        Using an example close to home, the de facto ban on private firearm ownership in Chicago and Washington, D.C., resulted in lower crime rates, correct? Oops, no, those cities have been plagued by gun violence that is worse than many cities without those restrictions.

        The idea that banning firearms will result in “no one firing a shot” is, at best, charmingly naive.

        The Clinton Administration studied the effects of gun control in the 1990s, and found that it made no real difference. For that matter, the expansion of more liberal laws covering the issuance of the permit to carry a concealed weapon has not been accompanied by an increase in crime, either.

        As for Japan, it has a lower crime rate in general. So do we ban buck knives, too?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It was liberals that decided the insane needed protection against treatment rather than the public that needed protection from the insane. A random shooting making someone adopt liberal views is defeatist in the extreme.

        There are about as many guns in the US as people. Disarming the public won’t be painless for the totalitarians that try it, which is what our founding fathers had in mind.

        “No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

        – Thomas Jefferson

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        ……“No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”….

        Which would seem to strongly support the thought that the second amendment clearly ties the right to bear arms to the need for a well regulated militia. Too bad the Roberts-Scalito court has ruled that one has little to do with the other.

        However, bans of firearms are not the answer to crime or mass shootings. That’s not the type of lead that needed banning.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I never thought I’d see the day that TTAC cites something from Mother Jones. I like it.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    when will they connect electric cars will cause us whatever?

    to take these researches seriously one have to see who is funding behind to research though.
    there was a paper saying sugar is good and healthy then the paper were funded by the sugar growers.

    no question to get the lead out of the gas is a good idea.
    we dont need more chamicals.

    those sweeteners i am not so sure if they’re really safe.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      It’s easy to read too much into a study. Most of my career was spent in science.

      I didn’t see any bias in the results or writing, and integrity there is a high principle of science.

      But nobody addressed possible bias in choosing which questions were asked. The question of “does sugar cause cancer?” Is way different from “does sugar cause diabetes?” But when it gets munged through the press machine, it gets reported as “sugar is safe” or “sugar is dangerous”. The funding agency gets to pick which questions are asked. And, since only academics read the research paper, their PR people can reinterpret it however they like in the press release…. Reading the research paper is usually a good way to get past the crap.

  • avatar
    Kaosaur

    Folks have attempted to link this to an increase in birth rates as well.

    Nobody really has any clue.

    http://xkcd.com/552/

    • 0 avatar
      GusTurbo

      I can understand your skepticism. When I saw it, I was really skeptical too, but then I actually read it, and it makes sense. We hear all kinds of sensationalist reporting linking X to Y all the time. The media is saturated with it. But what this article does best (which major news outlets never do) is that it actually brings up possible objections and addresses them.

      The correlation was just the beginning. Not only is there a correlation for the US as a whole, but the correlation has been observed down to the county level and even lower. It has also been shown in other countries that saw rises and falls in the use of leaded gasoline. The article discussed other potential causes for the rise and fall of crime, like higher incarceration and other “tough on crime” measures, or legalized abortion. These other factors do not explain the drop in other countries.

      But as the author of the article points out, we have more compelling evidence than the simple broad-based correlation. We have a lot of hard evidence about the effects of lead poisoning at the individual level. One of the observed effects is increased aggressiveness, not to mention the obvious cognitive degradation. So in addition to the correlation, we also have a pretty well understood mechanism by which the violence might have increased.

      The article goes into a lot of depth, and I encourage you to read it.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        But on the flip side of skepticism is the question: What do I gain from this if it is right? We don’t use leaded gas anymore, and I feel confident that we never will again. Will there be lawsuits to recompense society? Why should I put any effort into this when I could put that effort into which refrigerant to pick for my next AC unit? In other words, how does knowing this affect my future decisions?

  • avatar
    niky

    Those correlation factors are better than a smoking gun. They’re like a bloody handprint.

    Fantastic research work, there, and pretty damn detailed.

  • avatar
    redliner

    ateupwithmotor.com has a great article on this titled: Getting the Lead Out: The 2nd-Generation Chevy Camaro and the Rise and Fall of Leaded Gasoline.

    It’s a bit lengthy but it’s a nice evening read.

    http://ateupwithmotor.com/sports-cars-and-muscle-cars/93-second-gen-chevy-camaro-and-leaded-gasoline.html

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    When I was a tyke I used to enjoy the occasional whiff of leaded gasoline. It smelled like xylene or felt markers.

    When they switched to unleaded I couldn’t stand the smell.

    Now while I haven’t gone on any crime sprees myself it does make me wonder if unleaded gasoline could be linked to autism?

  • avatar
    Nick

    In one of those strange twists of fate, the fellow who invented tetraethyl lead also invented PCBs. Thanks buddy.

  • avatar
    50merc

    For now, skepticism is appropriate. Statistical analysis of complex phenomena is like playing the guitar: easy to do badly; hard to do well. And Mother Jones is not a refereed scholarly journal. It is a hell-raising hard-left magazine. I’m surprised Ronnie reads it. The article was written by a self-described “political blogger” for the magazine. The Puffin Foundation (another leftist outfit) helped fund it, and The Nation [magazine, self-styled \"flagship of the left\"] Institute is in there somewhere. The author’s reflexive dismissal of incarceration’s value in reducing crime is part of the package. When violent criminals are locked up, we don’t have to wait 20 years for the societal benefits.

    • 0 avatar
      GusTurbo

      The author dismissed higher incarceration as a cause because the fall in the crime rate was consistent across a number of countries, even those that didn’t increase incarceration like the US. Even though correlation doesn’t necessarily show causation, if there is a causal effect, there should be a correspondingly strong correlation. The leaded gasoline hypothesis fits for those other countries.

      But, I will admit that the Mother Jones article crosses the line from mere reporting into advocacy. But then, it’s Mother Jones, so that’s to be expected. To me at least, advocating for less lead in the environment seems pretty uncontroversial. I don’t really see how this is a political issue — there’s nothing liberal or conservative about wanting to remove harmful substances from the environment.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        “there’s nothing liberal or conservative about wanting to remove harmful substances from the environment.”

        Sure there is. I can already hear the howls of outrage when you tell the “job creators” that they have to incur the costs of cleaning up after themselves.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “To me at least, advocating for less lead in the environment seems pretty uncontroversial.”

    It’s a cost-benefit problem. Remediation is expensive, and unlike much of the environmental remediation that is typical today, most of these types of costs would have to be borne by regular folks who may not be able to afford them.

    Anyone with an older home in an urban area could potentially be liable. Any laws requiring remediation could compromise property values and the ability to sell or refinance property. The cure could be worse than the disease; if the contamination issue is large enough, then plummeting values could encourage more blight, which helps to create more opportunities for more urban decline and (ironically enough) more crime.

  • avatar
    skor

    When I was a kid…1970s…..my friends and I had minibikes. We would siphon leaded gas out of the gas tanks of our parents’ cars by mouth to fill up our minibikes. Hasn’t hurt me any…….and if you don’t believe me, I’ll kill you.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Nope, it was the Pill. The dramatic drop in crime rate was directly attributed the wide spread availability and use of oral contraceptives in the late ’60s.


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